Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sorsogon: Butanding and firefly encounters in Donsol, Sorsogon

It was a long drive to Sorsogon, the southernmost province of Luzon island. We left Manila at 10 p.m. and arrived at 9 a.m. the next day, just in time for the whale shark or butanding encounter. I was with Anton Diaz of Our Awesome Planet, Ivan ManDy of Old Manila Walks and his friend Jenny Tan. The best time to interact with the whale sharks is in the morning, as much as possible, before 11 a.m.

When you arrive in Donsol, there are directional signs which point you to the Butanding Visitors' Center of the Donsol Tourism Office in Barangay Dancalan. There you will need to register and pay the appropriate fees which include PHP100 per head for registration for locals, and PHP3500 per boat which can accommodate a maximum of seven people. You will also need to rent snorkeling equipment for P300, mask, snorkel and fins included. Make sure you have fins or else you'll regret it.

There were just four of us and good thing we met a group (Isa, Meg and Raf) and decided to share the boat. Isa actually recognized Ivan ManDy since she had been on one of his tours. And it turns out, she was trying to look for Donsol info here in my blog but didn't find any. And the funny thing is we did Donsol together.

Anyway, each boat has a well-trained Butanding Interaction Officer (BIO) who will serve as your guide in the water, plus a spotter who will look for these gentle creatures for your group. Although there is no guarantee you'll see i>butandings, the crew members are expert spotters. Since we were at the tail-end of the season which is from November to May (peak is February to April), we kept our hopes up.

Just a few minutes from the shore, our spotter located a butanding and at the signal of our BIO, we jumped into the water. The butanding however disappeared quickly so I wasn't able to see it. So we went back on the boat and looked again. The second try was more successful since I was able to take photos of it. It was a really exciting feeling swimming on top or beside the whale shark. We got to see six of them that day! But the interaction was a bit short that day, just a few seconds. Our BIO said that his longest was an hour and 45 minutes! He was also GMA's BIO when she visited Donsol and after 30 minutes, the president was the one who begged off. That's why it's really best to visit during the peak months.

We called it a day after the sixth sighting. By the time we got back, we were so hungry since we hadn't eaten breakfast (if we stopped for breakfast, we would have missed the opportunity to check out the butandings). So we decided to have lunch at the Woodland Farm Resort Canteen where we ordered adobado (adobo with gata), kilawin, bicol express among others. We also decided to stay there for the night and got an air-conditioned room with two queen-sized beds for PHP1500. After lunch, we got some sorbetes from a vendor outside the canteen. It turns out, the Bicol version has coconut milk in it.

Jenny had to rush back to Manila that day to so we brought her to the bus station at Pilar Port (which is where the Masbate boats dock) in the neighboring town of Pilar. I was awed by the view of native houses amidst the colorful boats at Pilar Port. I hope towns in the Philippines preserve this kind of scenery but all of it is being replaced by concrete and hollow blocks. In Sorsogon however, you saw nipa houses lining the road to Donsol and it really made you feel you were in the Philippines.

We got back to Donsol at 5 p.m. just in time for another boat trip, this time along the Ogod River to check out the fireflies, Donsol's no. 2 attraction. Each boat is PHP1250. Again, we joined forces to bring down our costs. That's what backpacking is all about, trying to share expenses with new friends.

The river was a sight to behold with mangroves and nipa on each side. In front of us was a silhouette of the Mayon Volcano. We waited for darkness to arrive on an island in the middle of the river. At 7 p.m., we boarded the boat and started our trip back.

Then they appeared. Like fairy dust hovering around the trees, the fireflies gave an enchanting feeling as they flickered in the dark. One could say they looked like Christmas lights dancing around the trees. Sadly, we could not record them on our cameras. Indeed, the Philippines is blessed. I just hope local stakeholders could balance tourist arrivals with sustainable development and conservation.

The group had a sumptuous dinner at the Amor Farm Resort. It was all raves for the delicious food! We had laing, kinunot (malunggay with fish meat), inihaw na pusit, buttered shrimps, curry shrimps and Bicol express. If you do get to visit Donsol, make sure you have a meal at Amor. The night wasn't over since we had one last stop at the only bar in Donsol... BARacuda!

I liked the ambiance of the place. They serve meals too, but they have no menu, only the catch of the day. I was told that one meal was about PHP500, quite pricey for Donsol, but a hit among foreigners who visit the place. The bar owner, Juliet, is very friendly and interacts often with her customers. She explains that the prices also control the quality of the crowd and thus you don't get any of the town drunkards in her place.

We ordered margaritas and caipirinhas (a Brazilian drink similar to the mojito of Cuba) for PHP150 each. But since we were Pinoy, she gave us a discount which was quite nice of her. If only we didn't have to wake up early the next day, it would have been so much fun to stay and chill out there the whole night. She also has one room which I'm sure people willing to splurge would enjoy. Tired and sleepy, we called it a night at 10 p.m. More photos in Multiply.


  1. Anonymous23.5.07

    wow whale shark!!!

  2. Anonymous23.5.07

    Brother, send my regards to Anton. We went on a trip to Kyoto three years ago

  3. In fairness... accurate nga. ;-)t

  4. Hey Isa! Hehe! It was fun traveling with your group! Sa uulitin :)

  5. Of course!!! Kaladkarin club na ito. :-) In the meantime, sumama ka sa mga sa mga inuman ng mga B-boys.

  6. Hahaha! Sumasama naman ako pag may oras ako eh! Nag-inuman ba sila tonight?

  7. hi ivan, i feel sheepish admitting it, i'm from sorsogon and yet have never been to donsol or seen a butanding. aargh. your article only makes me want to head home, like, now, haha. thanks for the good words for our province. i'll make sure to see the whale sharks soon! :)

  8. Anonymous23.5.07

    argh! and i was supposed to go to donsol last weekend. i had actually seen them (butandings) once when they were (unexpectedly) in rawis before the typhoon last year. anyways, hoping to finally have the chance again this sunday or something. :D

    fyi: its kilawin, and that kinunot you ate. malunggay and fish meat? fish meat usually refers to shark meat. ahehe! thanks for the tourism exposure. (bicolana here)

  9. Ay oo, Kapampangan ang kilayin. Haha!

    The group thought the kinunot had pagi or sting ray meat. I didn't try any of it. But while everyone else was eating, they asked Mrs. Amor, and she said nga it was shark :(

  10. Anonymous24.5.07

    well actually they could be right too... it does play around sting ray meat or shark meat... don't worry, it's not whale shark meat, but shark meat as in *tan-dan-dan-dandan (to the tune of JAWS background music)*

    grabeh inggit ako sa mga travels mo... its my dream to travel and write about it noon pa. :D

  11. I shall narrate... Sina Ivan weren't there when we were ordering... Sorry nakalimutan ko rin ikuento sa kanila.

    When we were ordering, we asked what dish had pagi in it, and Mrs. Amor said the kinunot had.. So we got that, just out of curiosity's sake. (And the locals were telling us to try it). Anyhoot, during the meal, Meg and Raf noticed that the meat didn't have pagi texture, so we casually asked Mrs. Amor what was in the kinunot, and she said it was shark meat.

    And Ivan, si Mark lang yung B-boy na kasama kagabi. Hehe But you're welcome to join us anytime. :-)

  12. Oh well! Basta hindi yung endangered or protected species, fine with me. Hehe!

  13. Anonymous24.5.07

    basta ang usual joke about that food is that: "safe ka pag nagswimming ka na may malunggay kasi katatakutan ka ng pating." :)

  14. I was in Donsol and it was fun. It was an awesome experience to swim with the whale sharks. But I quickly realized there are too many tourists going there. Butandings don’t love humans. Too much interaction with the whale sharks gives them stress and in the end they will go away. This is another fine example of “killing the chicken with the golden eggs”.
    We should protect and leave those animals in peace.

  15. You went swimming with the whale Sharks!!!??? AAHHHH! I wanted to do that when I was there! When i was island hopping almost all of March, I had a choice of going to Boracay or the Bicol Peninsula from Bacolod. I chose the former. Although I don't regret having gone to Boracay, i still wish I'd squeezed swimming with the whale sharks on my backpacking schedule.

    Well, now I'm back in Canada and I guess I would just have to include that on my next visit...



  16. ay! Syanga pala. Paki link naman ako o! :p

  17. Anonymous29.5.07

    Thinking that Visayas-bound a/c Buses (originating from Manila) would pass by Donsol, I (a 63-yr old Backpacker bound for Calbiga, Samar to witness its Town Fiesta) made the mistake of taking a jeep ride arriving at Pilar town with no onward Jeep Ride to Donsol town at 5:30pm - nor with a return trip to Daraga at that time. Hence, I had to spend overnight as a bedspacer in a low-cost but clean Pilar Home-Hostel - only to leave Pilar at 3:00am for the Jeepney ride back to Daraga for the a/c Bus ride to Calbiga, Samar. I was told that the Butanding "Jump-off Point" is about 1.5 kms away from the Donsol Town proper - reachable only by a Tricycle Hire costing P50/trip. If my information is correct, Donsol Tourism would need to be more accessible to BackPacker Tourists.

  18. Hey ivan!

    Great blog here! You definitely deserve the award. I am a MD working out my papers to start work in the US. I hate to say this, but sana hin di na lang ako nagtry/apply sa States kasi mas maganda talaga dito sa Pinas -- and your blog affirms this!! Keep blogging!

  19. Anonymous30.3.08

    nice place a garden of eden in bicol...but beware of some disgraceful/lustful butanding interaction officer,coz last few day a female tourist complained about the maliciously fondling of her breast while swimming with the shark...

  20. Anonymous30.3.08

    ur right there anoymous coz we'v there last couple of week and my female cousin complain to me that her guide BIO touched her breast i remembered the BIO guy called only in the name of "GONG"..the local tourism must take actions about this matter.....

  21. Anonymous6.4.08

    Hi Ivan, do you have any recommendations which hotel/resort to stay in Donsol? And do you have their number, too? I find it so hard to find a site for Donsol resorts =( Thanks!

  22. We stayed at the Woodland Farm Resort. When we got there, we just asked around for accommodations.

  23. is that BIO Alan in the pic with you?

    he was our BIO in my last last visit to donsol...

  24. Yes, I think that's Alan :)

  25. whew!!! im one of the donsolanas.. and im very proud to read all of your comments about our town...

    dakulang pasasalamat hale sa mga taga-donsol!!!(maraming salamat mula sa mga taga-donsol)

  26. Anonymous30.5.08

    i'm from one of the town in sorsogon and one of sorsogon's delicacy really is kinunot and it's really yummy. but in our town we absolutely don't use shark meat, we only use pagi (stingray) meat. pagis abound in sorsogon seas so shark meat is out of the picture, at least in our town.

  27. Anonymous6.9.08

    Ivan ty for the compliments. Im a Donsolano. Nice comments, only for that BIO who fondled a breast. He was already suspended by their org.Alan as the pres of the org immediately suspendid him. If their are tourist who like to visit our town. They can contact me in my number for their guaranteed convenience and safety. Again ty very much for promoting our treasure. my email takz78. cp. 09217435677.

  28. Anonymous12.12.08

    december 12
    i hope that this blog will be read by foreign and local tourists...so far,,sightings is poor as of this days,..we are anticipating that this coming days,,sightings will gradually increase..
    i have seen a couple of tourists around the town..unfortunately, they have seen nothing..
    january to may is the best,,
    again, for updates of sightings and inquiries..mail me at takz78@yahoo.com
    hope that I can give so much info as I can, to avoid frustrations upon coming here in our town..

  29. Anonymous12.1.09

    ok ,, sightings are good this days... 8 to 12 sharks..

  30. Anonymous24.8.09

    Hi Ivan, Greetings! great site bro..Our Tourism industry needs people like you. This site will surely help boost our Sorsogon-Tourism industry. Keep it up!.have a nice day

  31. takz7820.11.09

    I invite everyone to come and visit the whalesharks here in our town Donsol..
    I am Takz Briones a local tour operator here in Donsol, swimming with the sharks for over 11 years and counting..
    We have sightings now beginning last November…
    So if you have quiries about everything that goes with our tourism pls contact me via email at
    Takz78@yahoo.com and my number 63+921-743-5677
    our butanding is dubbed as the “BEST ANIMAL ENCOUNTER IN ASIA”
    Adventurers, travellers, backpackers, nature-lovers, tourists from around the globe…
    Come and visit Philippines, visit Donsol “The home of the WHALESHARKS”

  32. JOEL BIO14.12.10

    I am Joel Briones. As the new Vice-President of Donsol Butanding Interaction Officers, I would like to invite everybody to come and visit Donsol to swim with our Whalesharks.
    Guests can contact me for inquiries and infos about Donsol Tourism
    Also by email you can contact my partner takz78@yahoo.com
    Sure you will enjoy Donsol !!!

  33. Anonymous22.1.12

    Hi, included n po b sa 3500 ung picture, i mean sa kanila n ung underwatercam,?

  34. Anonymous23.8.12

    Awesome, I am planning a New Years holiday to the Philippines and Donsol is the number one place on my list. Thanks sharing your experience!!!


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